Bass Transformational Leadership Theory

1. Introduction

The Bass transformational leadership theory was formulated by Bernard M. Bass in 1985. This theory specifies how a leader influences his/her subordinates.

According to the theory, leaders can influence their subordinated by expanding their understandings of the importance of tasks, making them realize to keep organizational and team goals above the individual interest, and incorporating their development needs.

Bass introduced new additions in Transformational leadership theory in which he described the leadership style effect of a leader on subordinates. As per Bass, a leader transforms his subordinates by the following methods:

  • A leader ensures that his/her subordinates are fully aware of the importance of tasks and so increases their awareness on the same.
  • A transformational leader keeps the organization and team’s interest in priority and owns interest later on. He/she ensure a similar focus for his team members as well.
  • A transformational leader initiates the needs of subordinates that are of higher-order.

2. History of Bass Transformational Leadership Theory

Bass Transformational leadership theory is one of the most important theories of the Transformational leadership approach.

Transformational Leadership:

The transformational leadership approach was introduced by James V. Downton in 1973 first, then expended by Macgregor Burns in 1978 and further Bernard M. Bass did additions to this in 1985. This theory works on change factor both in people and social systems. It aimed at developing positive change in subordinates and their development as future leaders. This theory increases the motivation level, performance, and morale of subordinates. A leader can achieve above by doing strength, weakness analysis of subordinates, encouraging them to have a great sense of responsibility and accountability of their work by setting an example of self, etc.

Burns’s theory was related to the moral values of leadership and Burns’s theory is more focused on the effectiveness of leadership. Bass’s concept of leadership much revolves around a leader’s influence on his/her followers. Due to the Charisma and trust factor of leaders, subordinates follow them. Followers get transformed by the leaders with these. Bass was interested to find out the mechanism by which leaders can generate these factors. He agreed upon the leader’s role-model image as well.

M. Bass provided the modern concept of Transformational leadership through his findings in research. He emphasized psychological methods that affect the transformational leadership style of leaders and also formulated a test in the form of a quiz to measure the transformational ability of a leader which is known as The Multifactor Leadership Quiz (MLQ).

The most important aspect behind Bass Transformational leadership concept was to find out different techniques by which a leader has an impact on his/her followers.

3. Assumptions

Bass Transformational leadership theory is based on the below assumptions:

  • Task awareness leads to people’s motivation.
  • A focused team having a common organization goal provides better performance and results.

4. Broader Perspective of  Theory

As mentioned above, Bass’s theory predicts that making staff aware of the task value, the inclination of staff towards achieving organizational goals before their interest, and addressing the higher-order needs of them can be of great help in the transformation of staff or subordinates.

There are four components of a Transformational leader in Bass Transformational leadership theory i.e. Intellectual Stimulation, Idealized influence, Inspirational motivation, and Individualized Consideration.

Four components of a transformational leader

Apart from the above components, the theory also considers moral character, ethical values, the social-ethical process morality combined by leaders and subordinates. The idea of this theory revolves around a leader’s capability and ways to contribute to change management in the organization and to motivate and ensure subordinates to follow the same. To fulfill this, Bass introduced above 4 components (also known as 4 ‘Is’ of leadership) to provide a base for transformational leadership that a leader should demonstrate for effective performance and results.

The detailed description of these components is as under:

1. Idealized influence or ‘Inspire’:

Leaders influence subordinates to develop them for future leadership roles by playing the role of a charismatic or ideal leader. The concept of one’s charisma is the base behind this concept and Transformational leadership approach. It assumes that leaders can influence and motivate their subordinates by setting their example to them. The idea is that subordinates tend to follow the blueprint of a leader who practices things that he/she recommends others to follow.

A leader not only admits any consequence that occurred in the vision framed by him/her but also accepts the reason and comes forward as a responsible person to take the authority of miss-happenings. This type of behavior of a leader makes his/her emotional bonding with subordinates strong and becomes an ideal to them. Two main elements i.e. trust and respects are defined by the Idealized influence component in a leader-subordinate relationship. So with moral qualities like risk-taking ability, moral values, and ideas; the confidence of subordinates in the leader increases and they follow their leader’s guidance and instructions on serious notes.

2. Inspirational motivation:

Transformational leaders can motivate and inspire their subordinates. These leaders are always clear in their vision and can communicate the same to their team members. They inspire the team to follow a similar vision and motivate them to work towards achieving these objectives or vision. The qualities of a good transformational leader include motivating the team on continuous learning, acquiring new skills and thus increasing their chances of development in the organization. Team members can understand and maintain a balance between the vision and tasks required to achieve it.

If a transformational leader and his/her team are pretty clear on the vision i.e. what is to be achieved then it is easy to outline and have clarity on the required actions to be taken to achieve the vision. The basic concept of Inspirational motivation component in Transformational leadership is to make the team aware of and belongingness to the purpose which leads to an increase in their willingness for more work, enthusiasm, morale as they can much aware of the objective. Further attitudes of leaders i.e. increase in their confidence level towards team members and extended support to them for the attainment of objectives by focusing their self-developmental needs etc. are also part of this component.

3. Intellectual stimulation:

When a leader motivates subordinates to demonstrate creativity, critical thinking, problem-solving approach, and innovative ideas in their tasks then it’s known as a leader having Intellectual stimulation. This component of Transformational leadership not only triggers the views, ideas, and imaginations of subordinates but also encourages their innovative ways to identify and solve issues.

So this component of Transformational leadership is mainly focused on enhancing creativity and also encourages self-direction and self-motivation of the team. Rather than imposing their decisions and instructions on tasks to be done to their subordinates; transformational leaders encourage innovative ideas and self-motivated thinking of subordinates to complete their tasks. Leaders also make their team members realize both their accountability and responsibility in their work and own decisions. Leaders never criticize any idea of subordinates. In-fact they aim to transform subordinates as problem-solver by analyzing different aspects and solutions of the problem and representing the best one that helps in sorting out the issue.

4. Individualized consideration:

Bass Transformational Leadership theory not only considers team-effort but also takes every member of the team as separate and an important identity having a valuable contribution to vision accomplishment. This component expects leaders to take care of both the professional and personal needs and desires of subordinates. To motivate and for the better performance of subordinates, leaders must also have a sensitive approach towards personal requirements of them. This demands leaders to act as a mentor and a coach of the team for one-to-one counseling and to train them to align their personal goals with organizational goals. This encourages members to demonstrate their best performance on both personal and professional grounds with self-development.

5. Practical implications of theory with an example

Bass transformational leadership theory provides a leadership style that has practical significance in the organization. There are many examples of Transformational leaders who successfully demonstrated different components of the theory in their career and created a benchmark for further Transformation leaders. Out of these, one famous name is Steve Jobs who is well known as Co-founder and former Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of the renowned brand i.e. Apple.

Steve Jobs as Transformational Leader

Steve Job’s leadership style is a live practical example of Bass Transformational leadership theory. He aimed at transforming people to initiate a helpful and sharing environment, to create a vision of a common organization goal by everyone. He was an exceptional leader at Apple who created an innovative and ideal vision i.e. changing the world with computer technology and for this lots of talented people got inclined towards him and his thoughts. His team was transformed positively under his leadership as he can boost the motivation level, morale, and ultimately performance of his team members. He was also considered as Charismatic leader due to his influence on people by his great vision and success, motivational speeches of his struggle and success time stories and experiences.

Steve Jobs demonstrated the Transformational leadership style in all four components:

1. Idealized Influence:

Steve Jobs was a successful businessman and leader. He was a man of respect by lots of people as he laid down the frame for successful businesses like Apple, Pixar. He is well known today for creating and fulfilling a great vision for Apple computers. So this way he demonstrated the Idealized Influence component of Bass Transformational Leadership.

2. Inspirational Motivation:

Steve Jobs was a real transformational leader as innovation and creativity were among his inspiration to followers.  He has a clear vision to develop great innovations in the computer world under the brand Apple. He shared his experiences with his people to motivate them. He encouraged people to be passionate to fulfill their dreams and have the curiosity to know things at Stanford during his impressive speech.

3. Intellectual Stimulation:

Steve Jobs always insisted on his followers for innovations and creativity. Despite having tough competition in the market, Jobs always motivated his team to work on creative and innovative products as per their experience and skills. Each member of the Apple team contributed in his/her best way to establish the brand as the topmost brand in the segment.

This way Jobs was able to develop a base of modern computer technology that is very much useful for further generations. He always took care of the expectations of end-users of his product.

His Intellectual stimulation can also be viewed in his philosophy of 7 principles of innovation. These 7 principles are:


Principle 1: Love what you do

According to Steve Jobs, passion is the only key for success. If you don’t love what you do, you won’t be happy. Follow your heart and don’t settle for less.

Principle 2: Kick start your brain  

To succeed, think differently. One has to make his mind innovative and creative. Being dull is of no use.

Principle 3: Put a dent in the universe

The only road to success is innovation, passion, and creativity. One has to be a leader, not a follower.

Principle 4: Master the message

One has the master his message of innovative things if people don’t get excited about your ideas, it’s of no use.

Principle 5: Say no to 1000 things

Rather than focusing on several things, concentrate on one simple task and excel in it.

Principle 6: Sell dreams, not products

According to him, think differently about your customers. The ultimate goal of any business should not increase the sales, but customers’ satisfaction.

Principle 7: Create insanely great experiences

Businesses should follow simple innovations to avoid any sort of complexities. Products should be made as per the satisfaction of the customers, to excel.

4. Individualized Consideration:

Steve jobs always tried to fetch the best from his team members. He pushed them hard to get most of their ability and inclined them towards perfection. Though his approach was a little harsh with his staff still his intention was always to push them to come out with their best part or performance to achieve a common vision. He always used ‘we’ as the Apple team instead of ‘I’ in different meetings. He also encouraged different product researches of his followers or team members.

6. Criticism of Theory

There are different points on which Bass Transformational leadership theory can be criticized:

  • According to Bass, a Transformational leader is having great ethical values but in a situation where a leader doesn’t carry such ethical values then his leadership style can fail and produce adverse effects.
  • The four components are overlapped to each other in terms of definitions and concepts. So the theory has limitations in defining its components in more clear terms.
  • Brayman in 1992 took this theory as applicable, useful for specific personalities and not requirement specific.
  • In-fact Avolio and Howell (1992) also criticize this theory on ethical grounds i.e. the qualities of a transformational leader can be misleading also and a leader may get involved in unethical practices. Due to this he/she can forcefully lead team members to indulge in unethical acts like in the case of Hitler who was a great leader but his leadership style miss-leaded him towards the cruelty of humans.

7. Significance of Theory

Following advantages are there of Bass Transformational leadership theory:

  • This theory emphasizes on innovation and creativity in an organization which is required in transformation or change in an organization for its success.
  • This theory focuses on a clear and defined vision so it can successfully implement change in an organization.
  • The transformational leadership in this theory encourages leaders to play a supportive role to their subordinates to achieve the vision. By setting their examples, leaders can inspire and motivate their team members.
  • This theory encourages self-motivation and self-realization which help team members to be a potential transformational leader. So this way, the organization has quality transformational leaders for future needs.
  • As the theory believes in a shared vision and supportive work environment, the goal attainment process becomes faster and results in better outcomes.

8. Limitations of Theory

Limitations of Bass Transformational leadership theory are:

  • The test recommended by Bass to analyze the results of this theory i.e. Multifactor Leadership Questionnaire (MLQ) is not up to the mark in defining the validity of desired results.
  • This type of leadership style is a little complex also to implement as it demands exceptional transformational leaders who carry vast experience, knowledge of change and high emotional intelligence.
  • The convincing power of transformational leadership plays an important role in the success of this leadership style. So if a leader is not able to convince team members towards the vision to be achieved then the whole efforts can be wasted.

9. Conclusions

To conclude, Bass Transformational leadership theory is well suited in today’s competitive business environment where vision clarity, commitment, innovation, creativity, motivation, etc. are highly sought by an organization from a leader towards team members. Transformational leaders are capable enough for superior performance and create a great impact on change management in organizations and people.

As stated above that the theory takes setting own example by a leader into account while leading the team, so it empowers team members to disburse their tasks with full zeal. As transformational leaders are very much clear on the vision to be achieved and by setting own example they can inspire subordinates to incline towards the same vision.

Unlike other theories, it keeps individual needs on priority than organizational processes.  It encourages and build team-work, motivational approach and communicating useful feedback. Feedback generation is from team members as well. This leadership style is highly recommended and implemented in modern businesses for transformation due to uncertainty, stiff competition, insecurity, technical advancements, etc. The theory demands leaders to be empathic, well educated, intellectual, and ethical.

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